Launching The Democratic Imagination

Gladstone Hotel Sandwich BoardOn the evening of Wednesday October 17, several members of the UTP Higher Education team attended a packed book launch for UTP’s new book by James Cairns and Alan Sears, The Democratic Imagination: Envisioning Popular Power in the Twenty-First Century. People were lined up outside the ballroom doors at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto, and there was definitely a buzz of anticipation in the air.

The event was co-organized by This Is Not a Reading Series (a.k.a. TINARS). Hosted by Ralph Benmurgui, the launch featured several speakers (activist Mary-Jo Nadeau, professor Sedef Arat-Koc, and activist/filmmaker John Greyson). Each speaker was asked to bring an object that symbolized their relationship with democracy, and express their own democratic imagination to the audience. The objects included a safety vest (think crossing guard or construction worker), bread and roses, and a telescope. The explanations ranged from talking about the limitations and successes of activism to the idea that perhaps democracy is always an unfulfilled dream, but one that is a necessary struggle.

During an interviewAuthor Interview with the authors, Benmurgui asked tough but provocative questions. One of the most interesting came when he asked if activists also required some level of spirituality to sustain them. Sears suggested that activists are constantly reinventing rituals and spiritual ideas, using the example of the unique way AIDS activists have dealt with death and grieving. In the Q&A after the interview, an audience member asked if democracy in the age of social media required more listening. Cairns agreed, suggesting that we don’t just need to listen to each other, but that we can also “listen to history” and in the process stimulate action that we may otherwise not have accomplished.

Technology was ever-present, allowing the audience and even people not in attendance to get in on the discussion. There was a live Twitter feed and the tweets were displayed on one of the brick walls of the room by a projector for all to see. The audience was treated to a video with discussion of the concerns surrounding democracy. There was also a slideshow of images of popular power on a screen behind the stage that nicely punctuated the interview with the authors.

One thought that most struck me was the idea of causes searching for a voice. The other side to this, however, is the fact that the voice needs to feel as though it has the ability not just to participate, but to actually make a difference. In the classroom, this book can help students to better understand democracy in their own lives, and give them a way in which to get involved. By discussing democracy openly, with the understanding that there is no one method or type, students will be able to expand their own democratic imaginations. The audience was left with a sense that democracy should be an open discussion – democracy exists both from above and below.

– Joanna Kincaide, Sales and Marketing Assistant
UTP Higher Education Division

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